Photo Story: Biking in Oaxaca, Mexico with Geoff Gulevich & Bruno Long

Nov 2, 2021
by Orbea  

Two years ago, traveling to an unfamiliar place for work was a repetitive act of planning, packing, traveling, and embracing the newness of unexplored surroundings. Immersing myself in a new environment sharpened all senses, while simultaneously enhancing my enjoyment of the unknown with a small slice of anxiety thrown in the mix to keep me on my toes. Having never traveled to Mexico, the excitement was palpable. Yet what lay ahead during that trip, unbeknownst to me, was to be the last ‘normal’ trip for a very long time.



Fast forward two years and one pandemic later, things are no longer as we remember them. The Mack truck that is Covid-19, struck the world headfirst, throwing humanity into a place so unfamiliar that things may never be the same again. Time, despite lockdowns, shelter-in-place orders, and mandates, continues to move forward regardless of the measures put in place by anyone of authority. As the seconds, minutes, hours pass by, they build into days, weeks, months, and years until we barely remember what things were like before.

So, when the opportunity came up to return to the last familiar destination before this monumental shakeup, Oaxaca City, Mexico, previous feelings of excitement for the unknown and familiarity of travel were flipped upside down. Excited to be returning to a place I knew, my anxieties festered around traveling on a plane, vaccine passports, and Covid testing. Thankfully, I had a partner-in-crime to alleviate my concerns and bring me back to a small sense of normality.



I hadn’t traveled with Geoff Gulevich since a wild trip to northern India years ago (which now seems unfathomable), seeing his familiar face in the airport and being with someone who is in the same boat (or plane in this case) as me, provided a sense of comfort. Geoff is one of the most seasoned travelers I know, and even he was wondering how this is all going to work. We set off through security to catch the redeye to Mexico City, where we waited out a long layover at the airport, drinking beer and catching up on each other’s life.

In the late afternoon, we caught a flight to Huatulco, a beautiful beach community perched on the west coast of the state of Oaxaca. Our guide for the trip, Javier Salazar, is the owner of Oaxaca Bike Expeditions, a mountain bike tour company that both Geoff and I traveled with on our first trips to Mexico. He and his friend Esteban picked us up for a few days of exploring and fishing around the area before heading inland to Oaxaca City. The vibe is relaxed in this tourist destination, and we enjoy some incredible fishing, time at the beach, and working on our Canadian tans (also known as very bad sunburns). By the time we arrive in Oaxaca City two days later, we are ready to get on our bikes and ride the single track in the jungle.



When entering the city of Oaxaca, the main feeling centers around its rich cultural history. It is impossible to miss, every building, cobblestone street, and church exude a sense of historical significance. The city, founded in 1532, has had Zapotec and Mixtec settlements in the area for thousands of years until the Spanish arrived in 1521. The conquest of the area by the Spanish and hundreds of years of occupation is easily seen in the architecture of the city, yet the soul of the city remains with the Mexican people. Despite the Spanish influence, the rich Mexican culture shines through in their food, hospitality, and friendly nature, making a trip to Oaxaca City a must-do for anyone looking for a rich cultural experience. Of course, we are here for all that, but biking is what we really crave.


The Sierra Madre mountains loom over Oaxaca City, which sits at an elevation of just over 5000 feet. As we leave the 270000-person city and begin climbing into the Sierra Madres, the houses become few and far between, gaining another 5000 feet to our highest elevation. As we plunge deeper into the remote forest and jungle of the mountains, the variety of the landscape is what excites everyone on the trip. Passing through lush jungle and climbing higher into pine & oak forests that are peppered with giant agave plants, most of which are protected within the eco-reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site status, you begin to notice dark slivers of single track in the forest, weaving through the variety of landscapes.



We spend the next 5 days exploring all of the trails that Javier and his knowledgeable group of guides and drivers navigate us through. The collection of trails range from fast, flowy single track to steep, rugged downhills trails that are on par with the most technical trails I’ve ever ridden. Home to many stages of the Trans-Sierra Norte, a 5-day enduro stage race, there are enough trails in the area to keep you busy for weeks. Our crew, made up of mostly other Mexican riders, hit the trails hard through a variety of conditions, as we arrived in Oaxaca at the tail end of the rainy season. We got everything from exciting mud-filled descents in a torrential downpour, too hot and humid jungle shredding, and foggy hero dirt that has Geoff and I feel right at home in the PNW. The assortment of trails and conditions have us all psyched, hooting and hollering amongst the pines and agave, rolling down to the van and piling in for as many laps as we can handle.



Evenings are spent reminiscing about our favorite moments of the day, as we share mezcal-infused drinks and enjoy the famous culinary experiences that Oaxaca City is known for. As the beating heart of the mezcal-tequila scene in Mexico, Oaxaca is also widely known as a culinary destination, where foodies flock to enjoy the numerous restaurants scattered throughout the city and surrounding areas. Many people come here for the cuisine alone, but pairing it with world-class riding makes for a journey comparable to a few others.



As the week rolls on, the anxiety and doubt Geoff and I had previous to the trip falls away. The familiarity of being with a guide and locals like Javier, as well as the tight Covid protocols, has us enjoying the trip like first-time travelers. Everything was exciting and fresh, yet with a recognizable feeling. The new reality of traveling becomes apparent quickly, with Covid tests, vaccine passports, and travel restrictions all getting sorted right before our trip back to Canada. We are returning to where it all started for us, going full circle back home, just as the trip down to Oaxaca was a full circle from before the pandemic. The main takeaway from it all is the word “full”. We are returning home full of memories, full of stories, full of expectations, and most importantly, full of hope for the future. A future where travel and borders begin to fall away and a return to normalcy, whatever that normalcy turns out to be.




MENTIONS: Photos and Story by: Bruno Long, Rider Geoff Gulevich.
@orbea / @foxfactory / @raceface / @shimano / @Maxxis




Regions in Article
Oaxaca


48 Comments

  • 64 1
 I managed to pull off a trip to Oaxaca this past summer and holy hell. What a trip. I hit up the folks at Trans Sierra de Norte the Ride. The same people that put on the enduro race. They took care of everything. Picked us up from the Airport. Put us up in their own lodge in downtown Centro. Had an amazing local chef cook us breakfast every morning. Then we shuttled all day. Racked up 6 days of riding with several days where we bagged 12k feet of descending. Then they treated to us to lunch/ dinner after. I can’t say enough about our trip. Trails, food, people. All of it was bonkers. All I want to do is go back.
  • 10 0
 Sounds amazing. Putting it on the bucket list.
  • 10 0
 I just got back from the Trans Sierra Norte. The trails blew me away and are no joke. Doing it as a tour I would give the nod too a bit as well as some of those 3K+ descents are more pleasant when you feel like stopping mid way down.
  • 6 1
 Transierra Norte The Ride crew for the win. Local knowledge, trail builders, backcountry access like no one else and most importantly private tours.
  • 3 0
 @poncex: never heard of them broooooaahh
  • 2 0
 that's so rad to hear, I'm thinking of heading here for a trip in February ! I only have a DH bike and I'm planning on bringing that to ride, is it too much bike for the trails you were doing ? thanks!
  • 2 0
 @bostonbrah: That's a lot of bike for Oaxaca. I just got back from a week of riding with the Oaxaca Bike Expeditions folks, and rented a sweet 2021 carbon Scout from them. They've got a great fleet of nicely-spec'ed, well-maintained bikes to choose from.

I brought my own bike down in 2019 for the TSN, but the lack of hassle was totally worth the extra cost. And Aeromexico screws you pretty good on the baggage fees anyways...
  • 2 0
 @geephlow: Agreed on this assessment. My bike actually broke while I was there (maybe due to flying as well) and now I'm looking at a shockly high priced and long time crash replacement. Renting seems the way to go.

Also there is a good amount of pedalling too to get to the top of descents. Having a DH bike would likely suck for that. But I was also doing an enduro race, not sure how the shuttle situation works for the tours. Most of the downhills didn't have much climbing and were nice and steep.
  • 2 0
 @jasbushey: That sucks -- sorry about your bike! Have a couple of buddies who raced this year, and they said a few folks had to wait an extra day or two for bikes that didn't make it on the flights into Oaxaca because of space restrictions. Nice to race on your own bike, but I didn't feel like I needed mine for the tour.

And definitely still some pedaling with the shuttle -- but did get to skip climbing the m*fing cobblestones at Ixtepeji this year!
  • 32 0
 As if the food and drink in that region weren’t enough of a draw, now there is biking there too! Oaxaca just moved up a move spots on the bucket list!
  • 32 3
 Hey now that Pinkbike is owned by Outside, could you open up a bit of Trailforks for free again. It's not like all the trails on there were sourced by riders who went out, rode the trails, then added them to Trailforks for other riders. Would be nice to at least see trails everywhere I go.
  • 4 1
 It’s a great app and well worth the cost, especially since we got it free for years.

Idea: Ask your parents to buy you a subscription for Xmas Smile
  • 2 0
 It's free again!... with your Outside+ subscription
  • 2 0
 @nurseben: I know it's a great app. I'm just saying that the riders are the reason the app has so many trails on it. Without people adding the trails they've ridden, there wouldn't be as many. I think allowing everyone to see the trails in the area would bring more riders to the app. They could then have options for upgrades, (like Strava allows you to see your times on trails and some basic features, but Strava premium gives you so much more). I think riders would be more likely to pay for the features of the app if could use the app for a trail map but then have an option to upgrade for more features.
  • 16 0
 We had an awesome time as always! Stoke to ride again with you guys in some months!
  • 14 0
 Love love LOVE Oaxaca! The people, colors, food, outdoors are unmatched and otherworldly beautiful.
  • 8 0
 Such an incredible place and people! I planned on the Sierra Norte Enduro, but had shoulder surgery a month before the trip. I wound up going with my wife instead and exploring the town, area, and taking part in Dia de Muertos. It was one of the most incredible trips of my life: so much beauty, so much culture, and some of the best food and drink imaginable.
  • 7 0
 I rode with Oaxaca Bike Expeditions a year ago today. What an incredible experience. The nicest crew and they really took care of us, I made new friends and ate amazing food. What I miss most about that trip is the magical forest. It is incredibly vibrant. It's hard to take a bad picture. The dirt is amazing because the mountain range sits atop of the Continental Divide with the Pacific on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other. The temperature differences between the two sides produces thick fog and moisture so the ground is always Hero dirt. I'm trying to get down there this month for a couple of days.
  • 8 0
 i love gully edits. Guys so humble, yet shreds so hard.
  • 6 0
 that one shot of those loamy turns makes me want to buy a plane ticket right now
  • 5 0
 Heading down to oaxaca for my honeymoon in a few weeks and managed to squeeze a day with these guys into the itinerary. I can't wait!
  • 6 0
 We just did our honeymoon there. It was incredible and we went with Trans Sierra Norte. Top notch for sure
  • 4 0
 Oaxaca is rad! Went riding with Javier and team for 3 days in August and another 2 days with Joe from mtboaxacaadventures. It´s so good that I´m considering relocating there
  • 3 0
 Just about to hop on a plane after a week of unreal trails and Dia de Los Muertos fiesta with Oaxaca Bike Expeditions. Can’t say enough good things about Javier and his crew. Already jonesing to come back!
  • 5 0
 Just got back from Trans Siera Norte. Holy f*ck. Best place ever. I'll be back next year 10000%
  • 4 0
 Beautiful as ever... and hardly a mention of Day of the Dead even on the 2nd November!
  • 4 0
 Love going down to Oaxaca, Javier and his crew at Oaxaca Bike Expeditions rule!
  • 4 0
 We'll see ya in December Javier!!
  • 4 0
 Oaxaca just got added to my bucket list!!
  • 3 0
 I want to try all of the Moles in Oaxaca and ride all the trails. Please and thank you.
  • 4 0
 I like these articles about mtb destinations that I had never heard of.
  • 2 2
 Apropos of nothing, I happened to be listening to an old PB podcast today (the “should you trust reviews” episode).

Kazimer mentioned one of the older PB reviews that happened to have a lot of positive comments below it. I’m paraphrasing here but he mentioned that it was astroturfing before astroturfing was a thing.
  • 4 0
 For my international Gringos: "wa-HA-ka"

C/S
  • 1 0
 Yeah, I’m down fir this, get to ride, eat, practice Spanish, and my wife can just hang out and drink beer: win win.

What’s the best season to visit if I prefer riding when it’s drier?
  • 3 0
 Nice shots Bruno. Definitely puts me there
  • 3 0
 I've always loved the queso Oaxaca, now I need the riding too!
  • 2 0
 Let's do it!!
  • 3 0
 Wow! I think I need to go there.
  • 3 0
 Best trip I've ever made. Unforgettable.
  • 3 0
 reverse alpine and Mexican surprises!
  • 3 0
 Beautiful, invite Israel next time!
  • 2 0
 Any tips on how to do table tops so dam flat while riding with SPD or crankbrother mallet pedals?
  • 3 0
 might have to put this on the to-do list.
  • 2 0
 what a trip, unforgettable
  • 2 0
 whelp, gotta bring a bike when I finally make a food pilgrimage there
  • 3 0
 more of this
  • 2 0
 noice!
  • 2 0
 welp, im going here

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